So is the love of spin: All of a sudden, the 1994 crime bill is very, very hot.
So is the love of silly politicized spin. We're not sure when we've seen a matter of substance get spun in so many ways by so many spindrift people.
In our view, the most ludicrous aspect of this pseudo-discussion involves the heavy focus on something Hillary Clinton said on one occasion, in 1996, twenty years ago. In today's featured editorial, the New York Times helps feed this remarkable frenzy through a traditional play:
NEWS YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/13/16): Mrs. Clinton has said she regrets her past statements promoting the crime bill as a way to bring “to heel” the era’s young “super-predators.”There it is—the power of pluralization! One past statement from 1996 might seem a bit slight as a spur to furious discussion. For that reason, let's stick an "s" on the end! Let's turn one statement into "past statements," with a good solid "s" on the end!
Will Andrew Rosenthal ever leave? The editorial includes other sad elements, including the statement that the crime bill "wasn’t solely responsible for the phenomenon known as mass incarceration."
It wasn't solely responsible? For a trend which had been underway for decades, and had basically peaked, by the time the crime bill passed?
(Will Andrew Rosenthal ever leave? People, we're just asking!)
Whatever your ultimate judgment about that crime bill may be, the spinning of that legislation has become a thing to behold. In our view, an opinion column in today's Times provides the latest case in point.
The column is written by three assistant/associate professors from the finest schools. Their headline asks a basic question:
"Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?"
Presumably, it all depends on what the meaning of "really endorse the crime bill" is! At any rate, as the assistant professors come out of the gate, their answer seems to be no.
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER (4/13/16): Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?It's normally said that columnists write their own headlines in the New York Times. We don't know if that privilege is granted to guest columnists, like the assistant professors.
As political candidates and pundits grapple with the legacy of the 1994 crime bill and the era of mass incarceration that has seen millions of African-Americans locked in the nation’s prisons, one defense keeps popping up: that black citizens asked for it.
When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime.”
Yet the historical record reveals a different story. Instead of being the unintended consequence of the democratic process at work, punitive crime policy is a result of a process of selectively hearing black voices on the question of crime.
At any rate, the assistant professors come firing out of the gate.
In their first paragraph, they imply a basic view of the bill. (It needs to be defended, not affirmed.) And they quickly seem to answer the question posed in that headline. They seem to say that "black citizens" really didn't "ask for" that crime bill.
"The historical record reveals a different story," the three assistants say. They keep this up until the middle of paragraph 13 (of a 15-paragraph piece), when they finally drop a rather basic fact:
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER: ...Ultimately, 26 of the 38 voting members [of the Congressional Black Caucus] supported the legislation. But those who broke ranks did so loudly: As Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia explained, “You wouldn’t ask an opponent of abortion to look at a bill with the greatest expansion of abortion in the history of the United States, and argue that he ought to vote for it because it’s got some highway funding in it.”Among members of the CBC, the vote was 26-12 in favor of the horrible bill, the one black citizens didn't ask for. But don't pay any attention to that! One black congressman who broke ranks is said to have done so loudly!
(Partial disclosure: Bobby Scott, whose work we admire, was a college classmate.)
This column strikes us as terrible work—as propaganda almost all the way down. The assistants seem to have a point of view, and they seem to want to promote it.
To do so, they seem to be willing to push basic facts all the way to the end of their tale. Equally silly is the way the three assistants explain away the votes by those black members of Congress.
Can you spot the missing point of logic?
HINTON, KOHLER-HAUSMANN AND WEAVER: In final negotiations, Democratic leadership yielded to Republicans demanding that prevention (or “welfare for criminals” as one called it) be sliced in exchange for their votes. Senator Robert Dole insisted that the focus be “on cutting pork, not on cutting prisons or police.” The compromise eliminated $2.5 billion in social spending and only $800 million in prison expenditures.According to the assistant professors, Republican opposition presented the black lawmakers with a dilemma. That's why they voted for the bill.
This presented black lawmakers with a dilemma: Defeating the bill might pave the way for something even more draconian down the line, and lose critical prevention funding still in the bill. Ultimately, 26 of the 38 voting members supported the legislation.
It doesn't seem to enter the assistants' heads that white lawmakers were presented with the same, extremely familiar type of political dilemma—a type of dilemma which affects a wide range of congressional votes. Also presented with a dilemma were the white and black folk in the White House, the ones our tribe's extremely small minds are now transforming into demons.
In the end, our liberal tribe is very unimpressive. So is the New York Times, who decided to publish this underfed cant.
Parents pay tuition for this: According to the New York Times:
"Elizabeth Hinton is an assistant professor in the departments of history and African and African-American studies at Harvard. Julilly Kohler-Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at Cornell. Vesla M. Weaver is an associate professor in the departments of African-American studies and political science at Yale."
Citizens, we're just saying.